Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Pentagon to assist in Nigeria; Syrian rebels leave Homs; Rogers now backs a broader NSA reform bill; Did Bart Simpson start the war in Syria?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Pentagon is expected to send assistance to Nigeria as part of a "cell" of interagency experts. Lubold's story: The Pentagon isn't sending a team of special forces or a unit of Marines to Nigeria anytime soon to help free the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped last month. Instead, Washington is sending a team of U.S. officials, including small numbers of uniformed military personnel, to help the Nigerian government locate the girls and bring them back safely... State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, at a press briefing two hours after Kerry and Jonathan spoke, hinted that the American response would come from a number of U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon. "It would include U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations, as well as officials with expertise in other areas that can be - that may be helpful to the Nigerian government in its response," Psaki said.

That fed some speculation that the U.S. was considering sending in a company of Marines or a Special Forces unit that could potentially find and rescue the girls. Not far away, in Uganda, the Pentagon has deployed more than 150 Special Forces troops to aid in the capture of fugitive rebel commander Joseph Kony.

But it's unlikely anything of that scope is envisioned in Nigeria, at least for now. The only plan currently under consideration is to send a small number of military personnel as part of a larger U.S. team, a Pentagon official said.  "We're going to provide all the help we can to the Nigerians," said the official, adding that there are no plans to deploy a full unit of troops. Read the rest here.

...But some in Washington urge a deeper US military footprint in Nigeria. The CS Monitor's Anna Mulrine: "US officials and lawmakers are quickly concluding that America's military should be doing more to help rescue hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria by a terrorist group. What is the point of having a US Africa Command, they say, if not to counter such attacks? ... The team will include an interagency coordination cell that will operate out of the US Embassy and advise the Nigerian government on logistics, intelligence, and communications, says Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a Pentagon spokesman. ‘At this point, we have no inclination to deploy troops. It's just a planning cell,' adds a US military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. ‘There will be military participation, but you can count them on two hands.' Some US lawmakers want to see more. They called on the Obama White House to send, as well, military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, which can include drones." More here.

The Nigerian government defends its actions. CNN's Isha Sesay, Vlad Duthiers and Chelsea J. Carter: "Nigeria defended its response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terror group Boko Haram, even as details emerged Tuesday about a second mass abduction, adding to a growing global outrage over the fate of the children. President Goodluck Jonathan has been under fire over accusations the government initially ignored and then later downplayed the abduction of the girls, who have become the focal point of a social media campaign demanding their safe return.

'The President and the government (are) not taking this as easy as people all over the world think,' Doyin Okupe, a spokesman for Jonathan told CNN. 'We've done a lot -- but we are not talking about it. We're not Americans. We're not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something.' More here.

The NYT's ed board begs to differ: its criticism of Jonathan's handling of the crisis here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Syrian rebels withdraw from the city of Homs. The NYT's Anne Barnard this morning: The last remaining insurgent fighters in the Old City of Homs in central Syria began evacuating on Wednesday morning, antigovernment activists and state media said, under a deal that would hand the highly symbolic district to the military after two years of blockades and bombardments.

"Under the deal, hammered out between security officials and rebel representatives with the participation of Iran's ambassador to Damascus, insurgents in Aleppo Province, to the north, will also lift their longstanding blockade of two villages there, activists briefed by rebel negotiators said. About 2,000 people, mainly fighters and their families, were expected to travel to rebel-held areas in northern Homs Province in bus convoys escorted by United Nations vehicles, spokesmen for the insurgents said. The deal allowed each fighter to take one bag and their individual light weapons, and one rocket-propelled grenade launcher per bus." More here.

The head of the Syrian opposition, President Ahmad Jarba, delivers his first address in Washington at USIP at 11:00 a.m. today. Watch the livestream here.

Who's Where When today - Hagel hosts an honor cordon to welcome Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh at 9am, then another honor cordon for Georgia's Minister of Defense Irakli Aalsania at 11am.; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Rosemary Freitas Williams delivers remarks at the 2014 Military.com Spouse Summit at 9 a.m at the Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner outside Washington, D.C.; and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens deliver remarks at the 2014 Military.com Spouse Summit at 10:15 a.m. at the same hotel.

Also today, at the Pentagon, a group of USA basketball and college champion basketball coaches will conduct a panel discussion on leadership in the building's auditorium at 1:30pm and is open to all Pentagon employees with a badge. Dempsey will host the event with USA basketball and the National Basketball Association "Hoops for Troops" program. Coaches from USA Basketball men's and women's national teams and NCAA collegiate teams, including the 2014 NCAA National Champion men's and women's head coaches from UConn.

Who's coming to talk leadership? Geno Auriemma of UConn's women's basketball; Jim Boeheim, assistant coach for the USA Basketball Men's National Team and head coach of Syracuse University men's basketball; Jamie Dixon, head coach of University of Pittsburgh men's basketball; Tom Izzo, head coach of Michigan State University men's basketball; Kevin Ollie, head coach of University of Connecticut men's basketball; Tubby Smith, head coach of Texas Tech University men's basketball and Jay Wright, head coach of Villanova University men's basketball. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas will moderate the panel discussion. The whole thing will be carried live on the Pentagon Channel at 1:30, here.

Susan Rice arrives in Israel today for consultations on Iran and bilats with Bibi and Peres.  Reuters' Mark Felsenthal: "U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice will travel to Israel on Wednesday and Thursday for meetings with Israeli officials in which nuclear talks with Iran will be on the agenda, the White House said on Tuesday. Rice's visit, the first in her role as national security adviser, comes as peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have collapsed. The Obama administration made clear that Rice's trip is part of regularly scheduled talks and that the stalled Middle East peace discussions are not on the agenda... Rice is leading a multi-agency delegation to the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group that regularly brings together senior officials to discuss bilateral and regional security issues, the White House said." More here.

The White House will provide lawmakers access to the memo that authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. The WaPo's Greg Miller: "The White House pledged Tuesday to give lawmakers expanded access to memos on the legality of killing American citizens in drone strikes, a concession aimed at heading off Senate opposition to a judicial nominee involved in drafting those secret documents. The move was designed to salvage the nomination of David J. Barron to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit and address growing frustration among lawmakers over secrecy surrounding the administration's counterterrorism operations a year after President Obama vowed greater transparency. Barron, who previously worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, was a principal author of at least one memo that served as the legal foundation for Obama's decision to order a 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who had become a senior al-Qaeda operative in Yemen." More here.

The Yemen army captures an al-Qaida stronghold. Reuters' Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden: "Yemeni government forces captured al Qaeda's main stronghold in the southern part of the country on Tuesday after insurgents blew up the local government compound there and fled, the Defence Ministry said. The mountainous al-Mahfad area of Abyan province, along with Azzan in the adjacent province of Shabwa, has been the militants' main stronghold in Yemen since 2012. In that year, the Yemeni army, with U.S. help, drove the fighters from towns they had seized during a chaotic national uprising in 2011. Major powers are keen on Yemen curbing the Islamist insurgents and restoring order in the south to prevent threats to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia next door. They also want to reduce any risk of Yemen being used as a springboard for attacks on Western targets." More here.

Surprise move: Rep. Mike Roger opens the door for bigger NSA reform than expected. FP's John Hudson: "In a dramatic change of tone, Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, praised a bill in the House Judiciary Committee that would sharply curb the National Security Agency's surveillance powers. His remarks suggest that the powerful lawmaker may be more willing to vote for tougher reforms than previously anticipated. Rogers and other national security hawks have spent weeks arguing that the USA Freedom Act, the most aggressive NSA reform bill under consideration in Congress, would remove tools that the government needs to track phone calls by foreign terrorists. Rogers, a staunch NSA supporter, is the sponsor of another bill that would codify many of the surveillance practices opposed by privacy advocates, such as the dragnet collection of records." More here.

An FBI agent is arrested on anti-terrorism charges in Pakistan. The WaPo's Tim Craig and Adam Goldman: "An FBI agent is being held on anti-terrorism charges in Pakistan after authorities found ammunition in a bag as he boarded a plane in Karachi, Pakistani and U.S. officials said Tuesday. The agent was detained by airport police in Karachi about 4 p.m. Monday when he tried to board a Pakistan International Airlines flight to Islamabad. He was in possession of 15 bullets and a magazine for a 9mm pistol, police officials said." Read the rest here.

Elections are the next contest for the West and Russia in Ukraine. The NYT's David Herszenhorn: "Russia and the West maneuvered on Tuesday ahead of a seemingly inevitable clash over Ukraine's plan to hold a presidential election on May 25 that Western powers view as crucial to restoring stability and that the Kremlin says will be illegitimate, particularly if the government in Kiev cannot first stabilize the country. Senior Russian officials have repeatedly referred to the provisional government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as an illegitimate ‘junta.' From their perspective, allowing an election to go forward when no pro-Russian candidate has a real chance of winning would seriously weaken the Kremlin's influence in Ukraine. It could also help the West coax the country out of Moscow's orbit. Russia has made clear that it wants the election to be delayed. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov pressed the point again on Tuesday, insisting that the interim government end bloodshed and amend the Constitution to devolve power to the regions - and that it do so before Ukrainians are asked to choose a new leader." More here.

Odierno says Ukraine demonstrates that you never know what's around the corner. James Kitfield for Defense One's interview with Odierno on Ukraine, the budget, downsizing, sexual assault, and more here.

The Tomahawk is getting a nose job. FP's Dan Lamothe: "The U.S. Navy's iconic Tomahawk cruise missile has been launched many hundreds of times since the Gulf War in 1991, but, like a star in show business, the weapon is starting to show its age. It's only fitting then that the main defense contractor behind the missile is taking a page from the Hollywood playbook and giving it a nose job. Raytheon Missile Systems, of Tucson, Ariz., is experimenting with a variety of new high-tech sensors that could go on the nose cone of the missile.
"The Tomahawk was first fielded by the Pentagon in the 1970s and has since been used in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and a variety of other countries where the U.S. military wanted to strike targets at long ranges. The missile typically has a 1,000-mile range and carries a 1,000-pound warhead, and can be launched from a variety of ships and submarines. It's also frequently among the first shots the United States fires in a conflict. In 2011, for example, the U.S. and British militaries launched more than 160 Tomahawks into Libya in one 12-hour period to take out anti-aircraft weapons and command centers before Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi could use his military against his own civilians." More here.
The FAA says the U2 did not cause LAX's control center's computers to crash. Air Force Times' Jeff Schogol, here.

ICYMI - UPS delivered a $400,000 drone, by mistake. Gizmodo's Ashley Feinberg: "No one's perfect, least of all UPS. But as far as mistakes go, this is just about as bad-and expensive-as it gets. Thanks to one hell of a mixup, Reddit user Seventy_Seven just got a $400,000 unmanned aerial vehicle delivered straight to his doorstep. Talk about service. Apparently, the rather expensive piece of federal property had been in storage ‘for a while' before landing at its new (probably extremely temporary at this point) home. And the really weird thing is, even after being informed of the error, UPS was more than willing to let him hold onto the US government's drone." More here.

The contract for the next presidential helo is up for grabs. Defense News' Aaron Mehta: "The contract for the next US presidential helicopter will be awarded this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday evening, according to sources. The only known bidder on the program is the team of Sikorsky Aircraft and Lockheed Martin, which is offering a souped-up version of Sikorsky's S-92. The president flies in Sikorsky-made VH-3D and VH-60N aircraft. The US government hopes to acquire up to 23 operational helicopters, with a 2020 operational date targeted. Initially, the US Navy expected Sikorsky to be challenged by offerings from the teams of Northrop Grumman-AgustaWestland and Bell-Boeing. But after studying the requirements, both teams declined to participate in the program." More here.

A major network outage hit the Pentagon police agency. Nextgov's Bob Brewin: "The agency that manages the Pentagon Police Department  and also runs networks and computers for the Office of the Secretary of Defense experienced a ‘catastrophic network technological outage' on Jan. 3, and repairs may not be complete until January 2015, an obscure document on the Federal Business Opportunities website revealed. A Defense Department spokesman attributed the outage to the failure of a legacy component. The contracting document, posted on May 2, said the outage experienced by the Pentagon Life Safety System Network and Life Safety Backbone left the Pentagon Force Protection Agency ‘without access to the mission-critical systems needed to properly safeguard personnel and facilities, rendering the agency blind across the national capital region.'" More here.

Did Bart Simpson's boy band predict the war in Syria? This isn't nuts - at least in Egypt. FP's own Elias Groll: "In 2001, Bart Simpson teamed up with his friends Milhouse, Nelson, and Ralph to form the boy band Party Posse and record a music video in which these boys of Springfield bomb a group of armed, hostile-looking Arabs.

The song -- "Drop Da Bomb" -- is a weird pre-9/11 satire of American militarism.

"There's trouble in a far-off nation/Time to get in love formation/Your love's more deadly than Saddam/That's why I gotta drop da bomb!" the boys sing.

Groll: "Thirteen years later, the fake song -- nominally a recruitment video for the Navy -- is stirring up some real, albeit bizarre, controversy in Egypt. Egypt's al-Tahrir satellite TV channel aired a segment earlier this week claiming that the quartet predicted the current Syrian civil war. In the music video, the bearded, keffiyeh-wearing fighters targeted by the Party Posse stand next to a jeep emblazoned with what at the time was a fictitious Arabic-looking flag. That flag happens to be identical to the one adopted by the Syrian opposition. A female anchor on al-Tahrir, a privately owned channel, then made the only logical conclusion: The Simpsons segment raised real questions whether "what is happening in Syria today is premeditated." More here.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Hagel to make pitch for engagement; Boko Haram wants to sell the girls; American Legion: Shinseki should resign; Is it ethical to use dolphins in war?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Boko Haram's leader says he has taken abducted girls as slaves and he wants to sell them. The New York Daily News' Bill Hutchinson this morning: "A man claiming to be the leader of an Al Qaeda-trained terrorist group holding 223 girls snatched from a Nigerian school threatened Monday to sell them as brides - even those as young as 9. In a shocking 57-minute video, a man professing to be Abubakar Shekau called women "slaves" and ranted that Allah gave him permission to sell the abducted girls for as little as $12. It was the first time the group, called Boko Haram, boasted responsibility for the April 15 mass abductions at the Chibok Girls Secondary School in northeast Nigeria. 'I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. I will sell them off and marry them off,' the man in the video railed, while holding an assault rifle." More here.

The WSJ's Gbenga Seun Ijagba and Drew Hinshaw: "...The girls don't appear in the video, and their whereabouts aren't known. State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf on Monday said there were indications that some of the girls had likely been moved out of the country. The video represented a grim update on what has become a hunt with few leads for an entire class of girls who weeks ago had been taking their final exams at a boarding school.

Shekau in the video: "‘Education is sin; it is forbidden,' ... ‘Women must go and marry.'" More here.

Meantime, Kerry winds up his trip to Africa and in Angola threatened sanctions against South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar. Reuters' Phil Stewart and Shrikesh Laxmidas: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened sanctions and other "consequences" for South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar on Monday if he refuses to commit to peace talks aimed at ending more than four months of fighting that has killed thousands. Kerry flew to South Sudan on Friday, securing a commitment from President Salva Kiir to fly to Ethiopia for face-to-face talks with rival Machar. But Kerry failed to win a similar commitment from Machar when he later spoke with him by phone.

'He has a fundamental decision to make. If he decides not to (go) and procrastinates, then we have a number of different options that are available to us,' said Kerry, speaking to reporters in Angola's capital, Luanda, his last stop on a nearly week-long trip to Africa." More here.

And after yesterday's meeting in the Oval, the U.S. signs a 20-year lease with Djibouti to keep Camp Lemonnier open. The NYT's Eric Schmitt: "The Obama administration said Monday that it had signed a 20-year lease on its military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the only American installation on the continent and a staging ground for counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia. Djibouti, a country of fewer than one million people the size of New Jersey that borders the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, has played an increasingly significant role in seeking to stabilize regional crises. The deal reflects the small country's outsize strategic importance in helping the United States and other Western allies combat terrorists, pirates and smugglers in the region. In a 40-minute meeting in the Oval Office, President Obama and Ismail Omar Guelleh, the president of Djibouti, covered a range of security and development issues, aides said. But the talks centered on the critical role played by Camp Lemonnier, a sprawling base of 4,000 American service members and civilians that serves as a hub for counterterrorism operations and training." More here.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Chuck Hagel is in Chicago today to make a pitch for why the U.S. should stay engaged around the globe. Hagel will address an event that is co-hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, chaired by former NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder, and the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, chaired by former political adviser for President Obama David Axelrod. The speech begins at 9:45 EST and will be carried live on the Pentagon Channel here.

From a senior defense official to SitRep this morning: "Secretary Hagel has long wanted to travel to Chicago, the capital of America's heartland, to discuss the imperative of continuing United States global leadership abroad. His speech will argue why and how the U.S. should remain engaged in world events and is all the more timely given recent polls showing nearly half of the country would prefer the U.S. pull back from the world stage."

The official noted that the speech comes as the House Armed Services Committee works to complete its markup of the 2015 budget bill and that Hagel will "continue his drumbeat" that the Pentagon needs the authority "to execute the tough decisions military leaders made earlier this year in the President's Budget."

What Hagel will say according to an excerpt provided to SitRep: "Although Americans today are increasingly skeptical of foreign engagement and global responsibilities, it is a mistake to view our global responsibilities as a burden or as charity. Let us remember that the biggest beneficiaries of American leadership and engagement in the world are the American people. Turning inward, history teaches us, does not insulate us from the world's troubles. It only forces us to be more engaged later - at a higher cost in blood and treasure, and often on the terms of others. This is perhaps more true than ever in today's globalized world. Walking away from the world, and our relationships, is not an option for the United States of America..."

Watch the WSJ's Jerry Seib provide a glimpse of the paradox that is the Obama presidency when it comes to foreign policy. WSJ teaser for his vid: "American's seem totally in sync with President Barack Obama's desire to stay out of military conflicts abroad, but they also seem troubled by it at the same time. According to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 47% of Americans think the United States should be less active in global conflicts. But at the same time, only 38% said they approve of the job the president is doing handling foreign policy and about half said they want a president who projects strength and will take on America's enemies abroad." More here. 

Who's Where When today - Hagel speaks in Chicago, then a big day on the Hill:  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Marty Dempsey, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Sandy Winnefeld; Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Jim Amos and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Army Gen. Frank Grass all testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on military compensation at 9:30 a.m. ... Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy Director Paige Hinkle-Bowles testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Subcommittee on Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce on "A More Efficient and Effective Government: Cultivating the Federal Workforce," at 2:30 p.m.

Bob Work starts his second official day as Deputy Secretary of Defense today. Work was sworn in by his boss, Hagel, yesterday morning at 8:45 a.m. Work already has a few aides and may bring some other people in from outside the building. Serving beside him for now: Jonathan Lachman will continue in his current role as acting chief of staff and joining Work are Dan Feehan as special assistant (a current White House Fellow) and  Tom Ehrhard (who used to be at CSBA and more recently at the Pentagon policy shop) as a senior advisor.

The American Legion calls on Shinseki to resign. Stars and Stripes' Chris Carroll: "The head of one of the nation's major veterans service organizations on Monday called on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and top department leadership to step down following reports of delays and neglect at VA health centers around the nation. American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said Monday the incidents ‘are part of what appear to be a pattern of scandals that has infected the entire system.' In a speech at the organization's headquarters in Indianapolis, he also called for the resignations of Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel and Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey. Dellinger's call comes on the heels of whistleblower reports that more than 40 veterans may have died awaiting treatment while the Phoenix VA Health Care System maintained a secret waiting list designed to cover up delays in delivering care." More here.

Buck McKeon unveiled his $521 billion defense spending bill yesterday. The Hill's Kristina Wong and Martin Matishak: "House lawmakers on Monday released a $521 billion blueprint for the 2015 defense budget that rejects most of the Pentagon's cost-saving proposals.

"The top line figure is identical to the Pentagon's, but the legislation from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) would replace the Defense Department's requested cuts with different reductions. For instance, the bill rejected the Pentagon's plans to slow the growth of military pay and benefits; retire an aircraft carrier and the U-2 spy plane fleet; and launch another round of base closures. Instead, it calls for other cuts, including about $1.4 billion in the Pentagon's training, repairs and operations and maintenance budgets. The bill implicitly acknowledges it would lead to higher spending after 2015, when additional spending cuts under sequestration are to be implemented, but proposes no curbs on that spending, and instead asks the president to find new savings within the Pentagon budget. 'The chairman isn't going to make up the shortfall this year,' said a House aide on background." More here.

Heads up journos, think-tankers, lobbyists and other straphangers: Want to get on the HASC's distro ahead of tomorrow's markup? You have to sign up here by midnight to get on the list to receive markup updates on the budget. Do it here.

A former Marine throws his hat in the political ring in Virginia. The Virginian-Pilot's Bill Bartel: An Iraq War veteran who served in the Marine Corps announced Monday he's running as an independent against U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott in Virginia's 3rd Congressional District. Justin Gandino-Saadein, 32, said he believes a congressman who is not aligned with a political party has a better chance of breaking the partisan gridlock that has blocked compromise in Washington. 'We need a mediator to break the tension,' he said. 'They don't trust the parties.'" More here.

Syrian opposition offices in the U.S. are given "foreign mission" status. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: The Obama administration has designated the offices of the Syrian Opposition Coalition a "foreign mission" in this country, a category that gives the group a symbolic boost in status but that falls well short of diplomatic recognition as a government. The designation, announced Monday, was timed to coincide with a visit to Washington by coalition President Ahmad al-Jarba this week. The administration also will ask Congress to provide an additional $27 million in nonlethal aid to the Syrian political opposition, bringing the U.S. total to $287 million." More here.

The White House is pushing private sector levers to isolate Putin. The NYT's Peter Baker on Page One: "The White House has pressured the chief executives of some of America's largest energy, financial and industrial corporations into canceling plans to attend an international economic forum in Russia to be hosted by President Vladimir V. Putin this month, the latest effort to isolate Moscow in retaliation for its intervention in Ukraine. The top executives of such giants as Alcoa, Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Morgan Stanley, ConocoPhillips and other multinational companies with business in Russia have either pulled out of the conference or plan to do so after an intensive lobbying campaign by President Obama's advisers. Corporate officials predicted that nearly every American C.E.O. will now skip the forum in St. Petersburg." More here.

In the WSJ today, Marco Rubio argues for why Ukraine needs a lifeline - now! Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, on anchoring the hryvnia - the Ukrainian currency - would help Kiev immensely to deliver a blow to Putin, here.

A Ukrainian helicopter is downed as fighting resumes near the border with Russia. The WaPo's Simon Denyer, Fredrick Kunkle and Michael Birnbaum: "Pro-Russian insurgents shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter as heavy fighting re-erupted around a key rebel stronghold Monday, leaving at least eight people dead and dozens wounded. The fierce fighting in Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold, broke out as the Ukrainian government sought to regain control of the key Black Sea port of Odessa, dispatching a special police unit to that city after deadly clashes there between rival mobs supporting Ukraine and Russia.
"The day brought new setbacks to Ukrainian forces, with four troops killed and the helicopter shot down by rebel forces in clashes near Slovyansk that spanned several hours.
"It was the fourth Ukrainian helicopter to be shot down in recent days. In a visit to a checkpoint near the fighting, Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, acknowledged that after years of neglect, his country's military is weak and lacks basic supplies." More here.

Break, break new subject: Is it ethical to draft dolphins into war? Philip Hoare's BLUF in a NYT op-Ed today:  "Our objections to the use of dolphins in war may be sentimental, because we project idealized notions of placidity on their perennially smiling faces. We are imposing our own values, good and bad, on wild animals. But if we apprehend that dolphins are moral beings, then might they themselves object to being weapons of war? Perhaps we need to work on our dolphinese."  More here.

Meet the King Stallion, the U.S. Military's new muscular helicopter. FP's Dan Lamothe: "First there was the Sea Stallion, a workhorse helicopter that cut its teeth in combat in Vietnam. Then there was the Super Stallion, which offered more power and received heavy use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, we've learned what's coming next: The King Stallion, the military's most powerful helicopter ever, which is set to fly for the first time later this year.

"Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, unveiled the colorful name and the first prototype of the helicopter able to make test flights in a ceremony at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.'s test facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday. The CH-53K, as the King Stallion is formally known, will replace the CH-53D Sea Stallion and the CH-53E Super Stallion, venerable aircraft that have been used so much in recent years that the military actually started renovating some that had been sent to the boneyard, where the military sends retired aircraft. The Marine Corps wants some 200 King Stallions, at a cost of up to $25 billion, counting research and development. They could be in use by 2019." More here.

July is the next deadline for America's next choppers. Defense News' Paul McLeary: "In July, the US Army will make its first big decision on how to proceed with the ambitious, decades-long developmental project to replace up to 4,000 Apache and Black Hawk helicopters by the mid-2030s. Four contractors are working on demonstrator and technology projects under the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) program, which will eventually develop the baseline requirements for the $100 billion Future Vertical Lift (FVL) effort. The teams will submit their work to the Army in June for evaluation, after which the number of competitors will likely be whittled to two that will build actual demonstrator aircraft that will fly from 2017 to 2019." More here.

A policy debate looms over the U.S. role in the market for 'zero day' cyber threats. Inside Cybersecurity's Chris Castelli: "In a bid to address questions about the federal government's willingness to conceal and exploit cybersecurity vulnerabilities for intelligence purposes, the White House last week issued a statement on how it decides whether to reveal such a flaw, noting a key factor is protecting critical infrastructure. But there remains a looming policy debate about how to control the proliferation of zero-day exploits and whether the United States is in some ways contributing to the problem." More here.

Victims of sexual assault in the military may receive amnesty for minor crimes. U.S. News and World Report's Paul Shinkman: "Imagine you're a 20-year-old member of the armed forces who has just endured the trauma of a sexual assault or rape. You're sitting down in the office of a military criminal investigative division to tell a special agent about the horrific incident, in keeping with the Department of Defense's protocols. You begin with the details of what happened that evening: Perhaps you were drinking first, or had smoked marijuana. Or perhaps the incident began as consensual sex while you and your attacker were stationed in Baghdad or Kabul.
"Then the special agent, tasked with looking into this heinous crime and coordinating your participation in the subsequent investigation, closes his notebook and informs you he needs to read you your rights.
"‘It's one of the most difficult things we can do,' says Russell Strand, formerly with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division. ‘I speak for all the agents I've worked with and talked to.'
"Strand points to the military's strict adherence to ‘good order and discipline,' the broad regulations that include stipulations that a rape victim must also be investigated if they admit to breaking military rules. This not only includes regulations against underage drinking, drug use, or consensual sex in a war zone, but also more nuanced rules such as some services' ban on anybody even entering a barracks room designated for the opposite sex. These exist to protect service members when it counts the most, particularly when they could fall victim to an enemy attack. But they also serve to deter victims from reporting crimes against them, or worse, provide a loophole for attackers to corner victims into keeping their mouths shut.
"...The panel is considering recommending the creation a list of violations for which a rape or assault victim would automatically be legally immune. This would allow investigators like Strand and his former colleagues to move beyond their own regulations that say they must read rights to any person who confesses to breaking military rules." More here.